Adventures in Online Program Management (A.M.A.)

Educational Technology, Pedagogy

Rob has invited me to write a guest post as an ‘Ask me Anything’ learning experience for students in his current program. I’m honored to be able to participate! If you’d like to know more about my background, feel free to visit my LinkedIn profile or my Portfolio.

Online program management can definitely be an adventure. Sometimes I show up at work and ask myself which law we’re going to break today. There are so many rules and requirements from competing stakeholders, that it’s nearly impossible to run an online course or program without breaking some of them. Much of my work involves negotiating political minefields and treading lightly around fragile egos.  I love my job!

I’ll share a brief story about something that happened just yesterday, and then feel free to use the comments section of this post to Ask me Anything. Often with online programs, we count on third party partnerships. We currently use a state consortium model for shared online courses between the 34 community and technical colleges in Washington. One of the options in this consortium is for our college to pay an instructor to teach a system owned shared course where students from other colleges can enroll. We pay the instructor, and our college collects instruction fees from colleges where participating students are enrolled.

Currently we have it set up so those instructors report directly to me. Yesterday one of the instructors sent me the following email (summarized):

A student who is enrolled in this class has not taken part in the class all quarter. The only assignment I’ve received is posted under Exam 4 where the student submitted an x-rated photo of one of their body parts.

Adventure time!  To resolve this issue, I had to take into consideration everything from student discipline to concern for a safe environment for instructors. The instructor is remote. I don’t have access to the course because it is hosted by the consortium. The student is enrolled at another institution. It took many sensitive communications to get the system rolling to take care of this situation.

Feel free to leave comments and questions and Ask me Anything about my adventures in Online Program Management.

Jen

School Design

Educational Technology, Pedagogy

This post is made in conjunction with Dr. Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Design course at Brigham Young University.

For class, this week we have been reading about systemic change in education.  For our assignment, we were tasked with creating a charter school based on beliefs about effective learning models.  After some thought, I think that the guiding principles for my school are: personalization, innovation, and the fostering of 21st century skills.

Personalization

For each student a personalized education would be tantamount.  In my school, I see personalization manifesting itself in two ways:  First, I would like to utilize adaptive and personalized learning systems.  As an instructor, I spent a lot of time trying to fit my content to all the of prerequisite knowledge/learning levels of my students.  By utilizing an adaptive tool in our classroom, we could let the technology work with the student individually and bring them to a level of mastery (an emphasis on mastery of competencies would be important in the school, rather than an arbitrary time schedule — I agree with Reigeluth, that this is a systemic problem that our schools face).  These personalized engines can create a virtual “zone of proximal development” and pull a student along in the learning process.  My idea is to use adaptive learning technologies to help students establish baseline knowledge in much of the same way a textbook is supposed to work.  There would still be planned teacher activities, but hopefully the adaptive systems would help the student gain mastery in a given topic more efficiently.

The other aspect of personalization is that the design of the school would allow students the freedom to pursue a course of study that is interesting to them.  This personalization could be accomplished in a few possible ways.  One way is that while, students across a class would likely be learning the same base level of content in general areas (Mathematics, Language), the structure would allow students to apply their knowledge to areas that interest them.  This would hopefully allow their learning in those broader subject areas to be quickly tied into their area of interest.

Another possible method of personalization could be done through self-directed learning. While self-directed study would only take up a portion of the day, it would be a good opportunity for students to work on planning, goal setting, and meta-cognitive strategies. This would hopefully also promote learner autonomy in the students, and would help them foster abilities for lifelong learning.  Students could take a general class that interested them (for instance: electronics), but they would draw up contracts with their instructors to create a path to their selected goal.

Innovation

In my experience trying to place students in job, I’ve seen the need for more and more innovative, strategic thinking. This is especially important as our country moves away from a manufacturing economy into a more knowledge-based economy. Teachers can no longer be content just helping their students gain baseline levels of knowledge, they need to help them use the knowledge that they gain in new and innovative ways.   In my school, time would be set aside for interdisciplinary, creative collaboration.   Partnerships would be formed with community members through the form of mentoring opportunities and community-based projects.  The focus of these projects would be to get students to experience real projects with concrete outcomes.  These problems would also be helpful in increasing just-in-time learning as students would need to direct learning in order to overcome certain gaps in their knowledge.  The mentors from the community would also be able to help the students identify resources that they might be able to use to accomplish those projects.

I don’t want the focus of innovative activities to be all about entrepreneurship and making money (although I wouldn’t say that was a bad thing), rather I want it to be about the process of knowledge creation.  Rather than having students sit on the learning that they’ve accumulated, I want to foster higher levels of cognitive abilities by having students utilize their knowledge in meaningful ways.

21st Century Skills

One important emphasis that I want to have in my school is a focus on 21st century skills. The most important of these I feel is learning to code and to curate of one’s digital identity.  I’ve been closely following the push for coding classes in school and I don’t feel that I’ve seen a lot of progress in its implementation.  I think that we should teach code in the same way that we immerse students in language.  Not only are we seeing more and more jobs in the software development arena, but I think that learning to code will become a new type of literacy.  Not in the way that we will need to know how to do it to interact with culture, but rather by being able to do it our students will be in control of so much more in their life.  Rather than being just consumers of the internet, they can understand the language of the internet, even speak the language of the internet.  I think that one of the most difficult challenges to this portion however, will be to get instructors who can teach the content.  Software Developers get paid a lot more than teachers, and software developers probably aren’t the best instructors of K-12 students, so we would need to come up with some creative solutions to overcome that gap, but I think by having this immersion, our school would be able to do some extremely innovative things.

In conjunction with this, I would also like to take some time helping students curate their own digital identity.  Every student would be issued a domain and hosting.  This would be their own sandbox to which they could write code, host a website, keep a blog, etc.  This would be based on the ideas of the “Domain of One’s Own” project out of the University of Mary Washington.  I feel that by having students curate their own corner of the internet, we will be able to empower them to do some really innovative things.

Getting Buy-in from the Stakeholders

I feel that getting support from the stakeholders on this project would be a challenge at first, but it would be something that I would be able to overcome.  I feel that this model is not trying to overthrow the current model of education, but rather it is trying to reframe it a bit. In my school, we would still be covering the content that was previously covered, however, now we would be utilizing personalized and adaptive technologies to make the learning of this content more efficient. That efficiency, would hopefully pay off in greater ability to create more learner-directed study paths.  By allowing student to pursue areas that interest them, while at the same time providing sufficient scaffolding through teacher and mentor interaction, I think that we would have a model that would be appealing to both students and their parents.  We would most likely have to provide evidence that this model was still paying off in high test scores for the students, but I think we would see them because students would be more intrinsically motivated to learn the content.

As for learning 21st century skills, I think we would have a fairly easy sell there.  Even looking at the video available on code.org is a good sell for anyone to have their children learn to code. Learning the language of development can open up new worlds to our students — I think this would translate into increased student success, as in many ways learning code can help increase the problem-solving abilities of students.

While these components that I have discussed in regards to my school are just a few of the components of my potential school, I really feel that they set the tone for the environment that I want to cultivate.  What do you think?  Do you think it would work?  Do you think there are any areas that I would get major push back?  Do you think that coding or digital identities are important 21st century skills?

Informal Learning Reflections at The Museum of Ancient Life

Pedagogy

This post is made in conjunction with Dr. Rick West’s Foundations of Instructional Design course at Brigham Young University.

This past week, we visited the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, UT with the express purpose of observing informal learning.  It was certainly an interesting experience to visit these exhibits with a new lens.  Specifically we were looking at the ways that learning was structured, and how learners (both children and adults) were interacting with those learning experiences.

Currently, the Museum of Ancient Life has two exhibits.  Both of them take very different approaches to displaying their content, and espouse different learning philosophies.

Constructivist Approaches in the Tinkering Exhibit

The first exhibit that we came across was a Tinkering exhibit.  This exhibit had some strong foundations in constructivism and discovery learning. While I don’t know the specific roots of tinkering, it is currently manifest in the DIY / hacker movement.  Most of the exhibits were based around some sort of manipulable mechanical device.   The exhibit itself was set in a large hall.  There was little perceivable flow to the exhibits, instead being grouped together around a theme of tinkering.  In walking up to one of the exhibits, the viewer is invited immediately to begin to play with the mechanism.  The key being that the devices were crude enough that a participant could quickly get an idea of what was going on.  While, there were instructions for most of the exhibits in this space, the attitude of the exhibits seemed very much to be of the mindset of “play now, ask questions later”.  I found myself consulting the instructions only if I ran into a dead-end of figuring out what I was trying to do.  One of the instructions that I did see often written around the room in marker was this checklist:

IMG_3982

The Tinkering Task List

Tinkering Task List

  • Tinker Together
  • Observe
  • Wonder
  • Make Guesses
  • Be Respectful

I also saw on another checklist:

  • Create, Test & Refine

The list sounded an awfully lot like the scientific method (although tinker-fied a bit). What I pull away from all of this is that you need to play to discover, and what you discover might be very different from what another person discovers, or from what the designer of the exhibit intended for you to discover.  An example of this that I saw was a pretty cool stop-motion video booth.  I observed several students playing with this, but none of them figured out what I perceived was the intention of the exhibit (making a stop motion video).  The button interface had a record, a play, an erase, frame forward and frame backwards buttons. There was no instructions in addition to the interface.  I saw one youth filming objects, layering frames on top of each other.  I saw another group of youth focusing on changing background and staging the elements in the frame.  None of them, however, figured out how to create a stop motion video.  In this case, that was okay, as the purpose of the exhibit was playing with the process (the task list) and not achieving a specified learning outcome.

I feel that this constructivist approach worked well for the Tinkering exhibit.  While a learner didn’t come out with specific outcomes, I think that they ultimately enjoyed themselves, and hopefully thought a little bit more about how they could play and tinker with resources that are around them.

Narrative and Layered Approaches in Dinosaur Hall

The dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Ancient Life was very different from its tinkering counterpart.  While the tinkering exhibit took on a more exploratory and constructivist approach, the dinosaur exhibit took more of a direct and narrative approach to its instruction.   While there were no explicit outcomes stated as the learner entered the dinosaur halls, you could definitely feel that there were outcomes that the museum designers wanted to teach the learners.  While there are several things that I could talk about, I would like to talk about 2 take-aways from this portion of the exhibit: specifically the use of narrative, and the use of layers.

Narrative Approach

For anyone, that’s been to the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Ancient Life,  you will able to immediately remember the narrative elements to the museum.  When you enter the exhibit, you are brought into a paleontology lab filled with tools and fossils.  It is here that you learn about the tools of the trade of paleontology along with seeing artifacts from major excavation sites where we have gained information about dinosaurs.  From this scene, you are thrust into probably what is the most dramatic scene of the museum, a seemingly levitating walkway through a star field.  When you emerge from the other side, you see a mural and bang! — the universe has begun.  This is only the beginning of the narrative that is present in the museum. As you move through the exhibits, you transition from early life forms to the Jurassic period to the Cretaceous period.  Many of the environments are completely immersive — the Jurassic period uses a combination of elaborately built scenery and high-fidelity surround sound to place you in the environment.  Other scenes, such as the one focused on early sea life uses blue lighting and suspended sea creatures to make you feel as if you are in the ocean.  This narrative method is especially helpful in younger learners who might not understand the theoretical divisions between the different areas of the museum.  Even though they may not be able to understand the time divisions, they can still sense the transition by the change of surroundings.

While the content in the Museum of Ancient Life doesn’t hold what Rossett & Hoffman (2012) call “the attraction of authentic objects” (p. 172) in the same way that a museum with famous art does, it is nonetheless still compelling because the material is so far outside our everyday experience.  From my understanding, most of the bones in the dinosaur exhibit aren’t authentic, but their verisimilitude to the original, and their arrangement in a narrative context still hold the attention of learners of all ages.

IMG_3998

The museum is serious about their narrative approach. Exhibits even seem to have a sub-story.

A problem that I saw with this narrative structure, however, is that it was often not explicit enough.  An adult learner can see the narrative structure after spending some time with the exhibit (as I did), but I it would be difficult for a younger learner to see that same structure.  I felt that some time could be spent up front orienting the learner, either through video or text to the journey that they were about to take.  Such effort had been put into building the narrative structure, that i would hope more of the audience would notice it outright.

Layered Structures

IMG_4003

Layered Activities in the Quarry

The second major observation that I found in the dinosaur hall was the use of layers of instruction.  Museum designers have to take into account a variety of learner ages and abilities. Additionally, designers must make the museum experience interesting for yearly pass holders who come to the museum multiple times. To accomplish this, the designers seem to structur their content in layers.  An example of this was the quarry section of the Cretacious period.  For this activity, museum attendees can mimic a paleontological excavation by placing dinosaur puzzle pieces into embedded spaces for each piece.  This would be an activity that would be appealing to young children (I know my son would love it). To escalate the experience up to a higher level, the learners could then take the puzzle pieces and piece them together on the nearby magnetic “Articulation Station”.  Meanwhile, around this exhibit, there are various smaller chunks of more specific information that would be interesting to adults who may be waiting on their children. This exhibit demonstrates how a layered approach can serve the needs of a wide range of learner abilities.

Another feature of a layered approach is a hierarchy of content.  What I mean by this is that content in the museum ranges from the very broad (such as a section on the Jurassic Period) to the very specific (such as information about a specimen).  By using this hierarchy, the museum experience can be self paced according to the learner.  If a learner has little time or interest, they can move quickly through the exhibit and understand the content in broad strokes.  If the learner has more time, they can dial into more detailed content and understand a specific topic in more depth.  This layered approach allows the museum experience to be customized each time you come as you will undoubtedly learn something that you didn’t learn before.

How Should We Structure Museum Content?

I feel that I gained great insight into informal learning by looking at these two different exhibits.  Was one approach better than the other? I don’t think so.  I think that they were trying to achieve different goals.  The tinkering exhibit sought to connect learners the process, a somewhat tinker-fied scientific method.  It was about interacting with the world in a different way.  The dinosaur exhibit, on the other hand, sought to connect learners with content.  By using a narrative and layered approach, it gave a wide range of learners access to a fascinating body of content.  As I have conducted this observation in informal learning, I don’t think that I will look at museums in quite the same way again.  I have a greater appreciation for museum designers who have a difficult task of keeping a wide variety of learners engaged simultaneously.  I feel that they truly have a job of “trying to put magic in a bottle” (Rossett & Hoffman, 2012, p. 173).

Any thoughts?  Have you found a museum learning strategy that you found particularly effective?  Find something at the museum of Ancient Life that I missed?

References

Rossett, A. & Hoffman, B. (2012).  Informal learning. in Robert A. Reiser & John V. Dempsey (Eds.) , Trends and issues in instructional design(p. 169-177).  Boston: Pearson.

Open Textbooks

IOE 13, Pedagogy

This post is in connection with David Wiley’s “Intro to Openness in Education” MOOC.

For the 5th module in class, we are looking into the development of Open Educational Resources and open textbooks.  I am fairly familiar with open textbooks because my state, Washington, launched an initiative a few years ago The Open Course Library to develop open textbooks for the 80 most highly enrolled classes in the state.  I thought that the project was fantastic for many of the purposes that we have explored in class.

Over my last 5 years of teaching, I have definitely seen my students attitude as well as my own toward textbooks change.  When I started, they were an assumed cost.  Textbooks were something that I had to purchase when I went to school and as such I felt that it was a right of passage that my students purchase them as well.  However, over time I have seen that the content from these books have become less relevant and current, and that I am instead building my curriculum from resources that I am finding on the internet.  Even when I require my students to buy a text-book, they do not, knowing that they can receive similar knowledge by looking through resources on the web.  Overall, I think that there is a general perception of this among students.  They know the power of web technology, and they refuse to believe that there isn’t a cheaper way for them to come across this content.

That’s where open textbooks come in.  By pulling OER content together into pre-packaged bundles that instructors and students can use in their courses, these textbook practically invite instructors to use them.  Students as well, are excited that they can get the same content for free or little cost (for printing).  I personally think that open textbooks and OER resources are ready to hit the big time, and many faculty would be excited about the prospect of using them in their classrooms, however we still have a few stumbling blocks.  I would like to explore some of these perceived stumbling blocks and possibly chart out some solutions to get past these.

One of the stumbling blocks to the adoption of open textbooks is the ability for instructors to review the materials before adoption.  In the traditional textbook model, instructors are able to order desk copies to use in their course.  They can then easily look through the content and learning activities in order to determine if the content will work for their course.  I haven’t seen an equivalent in the world of open textbooks, while OER Commons is a good place to view and sort open textbooks and other resources, its UI still makes it difficult for instructors to see how they might implement such resources in the classroom.  They often get overwhelmed with the amount of resources that are available and don’t see how they can be distilled down into their course — or they may be intimidated by the amount of development that would go into adapting the textbook/content for their course.  I am interested in the visual design of OpenTapestry and wonder if a similar UI could be applied more uniformly to these resources.

Another stumbling block that I see in the adoption of open textbooks is that there is little marketing to be done to let instructors know that these option exists.  This module of the course has really shown me that these resources are pretty comparable in terms of outcomes to traditional textbooks.  This news needs to be shared with districts and colleges around the world. It would help us increase the efficiency of our educational system. I feel that there are a lot of educators out there that want to create, and share their own content, but they may not necessarily know about these options.  I, for one, would love to develop an open textbook for an Intro to Film class (a class that I teach), however, I don’t know how I would start going about this and what I could do with the content once I was done.  It might be good to have a straightforward and unified platform on which we could develop these open textbooks.

What are your thoughts?  Are these valid concerns?  I am pretty new to this world, so if you are seeing things going in a different way than  the way that I am perceiving please let me know.

EDUC 206: Reflection Paper

EDUC 206, Pedagogy

For my final paper in EDUC 206, I have been tasked with reflecting on the past quarter and the work that I have completed in the course.  For those of you who don’t know, the EDUC series are classes taught at Lake Washington Technical College that are aimed at developing instructor’s abilities.  I took the first part of the course EDUC 201 my first quarter as an instructor here and it was a lifesaver for me in helping me navigate the student population that I would encounter here.  EDUC 206 has not been the same eye opener, but nonetheless it has been an important refresher in my instructional career.  To help me evaluate those things that I have learned, I want to compare my knowledge before and after in a few areas that we have discussed in the class:

Multiple Intelligences

As mentioned in a previous post, over the course of the quarter we have been discussing the idea of multiple intelligences.  And while I didn’t know who Howard Gardner was at the beginning of the quarter, I was aware of different learning styles that we encounter in the classroom.  What was new to me was how many of these learning styles there were.  The class has opened my eyes up to such intelligences as “Musical” and “Naturalist”.  And while I may not necessarily be turning my editing classes into full scale musical productions — it is nonetheless important to recognize the varying ways in which my students learn.

Copyright

One great in-class discussion that we had was on the topic of copyright.  To be honest, previously I had used kind of a “no holds barred” approach to incorporating materials into my classroom.  In looking at the pre-assessment that I took for the class, I thought that you could copy any chapter from any book as long as I only did one chapter at a time and didn’t try to sell the material.  What I have learned is that copyright is not so easy — however, it is not so complicated as well.  As I discussed in a recent post about using open materials, our librarians here at the college are well equipped to handle copyright questions.  I’ve been thinking about trying to run a whole class using readings culled from these resources.  My hesitation for this doesn’t spring from my reluctance to use the technology, but rather the fact that I still struggle to get my students to read the resources that I give them.

What I have learned overall about copyright is that it is a complicated issue, one that make me grateful for trained librarians that are on my side as I confront these issues.

Classroom Assessment Techniques

Another topic that we covered in the class was the Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT).  I think I remembered this term from my first time through EDUC 201.  CATs are small ways that we can gauge the learning of our students.  These may include small surveys that we give our students at the end of class to make sure that they have an understanding of the lesson material covered.  While I had learned about this method before, it has not been something that I have really implemented in my classroom, instead relying on more informal assessment techniques.  I think one of my hesitations has been that I don’t want to get burdened by the paperwork that comes with the CATs.  I would love to find some technological solution that easily gauges my students learning without creating a world of unnecessary paperwork for me.  Or maybe I am just taking too easy an approach to this topic — overall I think I am pretty casual in truly trying to gauge the learning of my students.  It could be worth it for me to kill a few trees and spend some time reading the feedback from my students

Final Thoughts

This quarter has been a great opportunity to revisit some of those topics that I need to refocus on as an instructor.  Previously, I have treaded lightly in the three areas that I have discussed above, instead getting bogged down in the nitty gritty of my classroom.  I think as an instructor, it is easy to get too focused on what is going on in your classroom, considering yourself too busy to really change anything.  However, if you take some time to step back and invest in some of these new techniques, you will be repaid as your students will learn better and appreciate the role that you take in their learning.